The NBA Should Draft And Follow Comment Count

Brian April 6th, 2012 at 12:07 PM


Left: Davon Jefferson left USC after one season, was not drafted, and now plays in Israel. He would have been better off with draft and follow.
Right: Corey Joseph left Texas after one season, was drafted at the end of the first round by San Antonio, and is now in the D-League. San Antonio would have been better off with draft and follow.

Yes: this is not a coincidence. But if my desire to see the NBA adopt a different draft model than one-and-done is naked self-interest, at least I'm not alone in my disdain. Mark Cuban is the latest person to sound off on the NBA's increasingly unpopular one-and-done rule. The normally shy and reserved Cuban:

Stern said Tuesday that he'd like to add a year to the rule. Cuban wants to take it a step further, requiring players to wait three years after their high school class graduates to become draft-eligible.

"I just think there's every good reason to do it, which is obviously why we didn't do it," Cuban said sarcastically, adding that Kentucky fans were the only people who like the one-and-done concept.

I think Kentucky fans would be okay with three years of Anthony Davis as well. Anthony Davis? Not so much.

While two or three years would make more sense than the current system, it's the difference between the current BCS system and a revised one that has three semi-finals. There's no reason for Anthony Davis to play college basketball anymore. There probably wasn't ever a reason. Football gets away with its model because the nature of the game makes age restrictions plausible. Basketball doesn't have that, so restrictions against high school kids entering the draft are unjustifiable.

That tenuous legal footing is a major issue. The other main problem with the draft today is uncertainty. Players get told they'll go somewhere by people with a vested interest in having the kid enter the draft, and these predictions often turn out to be wildly wrong. Meanwhile NBA teams are forced into making decisions about players when they say they're ready instead of when the NBA does. The current system is a high-stakes pull on a slot machine. It should go away.

Draft And Follow

Here's a model that eliminates the Lenny Cookes of the world, allows the Lebrons to pass go immediately, and guarantees every player exiting school will do so with enough money to go bankrupt spectacularly when their career is not as lucrative as they planned:

All players are automatically draft eligible coming out of high school. Euros might still have to apply, but I don't think anyone has a huge problem with the way Europeans get drafted. Players who are passed over out of high school remain eligible for drafts after their freshmen and sophomore years.

This would not impact anyone's eligibility. Hockey follows this model. The NCAA does not take your eligibility unless you opt in to a draft.

NBA teams retain rights until the summer after the player's eligibility expires. This has created some issues with NHL teams not wanting to chance a player hitting free agency after his senior year but that shouldn't be a problem in this model because…

An NBA team signing a draft pick commits to carrying the player on the roster until the year after his NCAA eligibility would have expired. Signing a kid out of high school means you are giving him a guaranteed five-year contract. After his freshman year, four years, etc. Signing a graduated senior does not require offering a guarantee.

Americans who go to the D-League or Europe are bound by the same rules.

The draft expands to five rounds. Since everyone's getting drafted out of high school miss rates will be higher and the extra rounds are warranted. Also, NBA fans will then have more players to follow in college.

The NCAA tweaks its rules to allow drafted players to participate in the NBA's summer league at the league's expense. This helps everyone make good decisions.

OPTIONAL: NBA teams can sign their picks to a pre-contract that gives them a significant amount of money without compromising their eligibility. This bit is a pipe dream, but it would go a long way towards cleaning up the seamier aspects of the NCAA model.

This Benefits Everyone

The NBA gets more time to make decisions on who to offer contracts to. They get the same publicity benefits for their players, if not more since a cottage industry that tracks draft picks will crop up. Trades will be less focused on cap numbers since each team will have a bunch of chips to send back and forth that do not exist now.

College players leaving school are doing so for guaranteed money and not the D-League. College teams keep players around longer and can plan for the future better by keeping in contact with the teams that have drafted their players.

The NCAA gets more eyeballs on college basketball from interested NBA fans and people who like the increased level of play. And no one has to tell LeBron James he can't get paid to play basketball out of high school.



April 6th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

Interesting proposal.  I think the most likely sticking point would be the third one (committing to carrying the player until his NCAA eligiibility would have expired) - there might need to be some wiggle room there to get owners on board.  Maybe you'd have to offer a 3-year contract to a HS kid instead of five years.

On a side note, clicking on Lenny Cooke's Wikipedia page, I learned that he once played for a team called the Shanghai Dongfang Sharks, which is amusing. 


April 6th, 2012 at 12:39 PM ^

No way NBA owners would go for 5 year guaranteed contracts. Maybe they could be persuaded if this was incorporated into the current way the rookie contract structure works, which is, IIRC, a 2 year contract with team options on years 3 and 4.

Maybe HSers would get 3 year contracts with 2 team options, 1 and done, 2 years with 2 team options, anything after that, 2 year contract with a 1 year team option. 


April 6th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

Because NBA contracts are guaranteed, you wouldn't even need to mandate that signed players be carried on rosters, just that the contracts would be for n years long given a signee's distance from graduation. If a team signs a player, decides he's not ready, and wants to send him to the D-league for seasoning, there would be nothing wrong with that, as long as the team fulfilled the terms of the contract. Hell, they could even buy a player out if they saw no future. This would eliminate the problem of narrowing teams' flexibility in composing their rosters.

The issue I see from the NCAA's standpoint (eliminating any consideration of the morality of said positions) is that players would be in a position to be potentially negotiating contracts after each season, something that should be done by an agent, but the NCAA obviously frowns upon "student-athletes" being represented by agents. How does hockey handle this?


April 7th, 2012 at 7:53 AM ^

Entry-level contracts are pretty standard in the NHL. In 2011, a rookie contract had to range between $525,000-$850,000, with a maximum signing bonus of $85,000*. I'm sure there is some type of standard sliding scale (like the NFL uses) for draft position or goalies, so I wouldn't think there's a whole lot to negotiate. All the drafted guys can look and see what kind of deal Patrick Kane or their buddy taken in the fifth round was offered, and make a pretty informed decision that way. Performance bonuses are the only other element, and I'm sure most clubs have no issue offering a nineteen year old kid a bajillion dollars to win the Conn Smythe or Norris Trophy; it'll rarely happen and it's worth paying out if they do happen to win.

That's a pretty long way of saying that I don't think an agent would be required to successfully negotiate an entry contract. It's the deals after the rookie contract that get complex, it seems.

*It's capped at 10% of salary, so a first-round type could get $85,000, while a Shawn Hunwick type would be capped at $52,500.


April 6th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

The player who signs after his freshman year (or whenever) then plays for the pro team (either in the NBA or the D League)?  Or does he stay in school and get paid anyway (along the lines of what David Stern suggested)? 


April 6th, 2012 at 12:24 PM ^

Imagine being broke for three years when you could be making millions. This is all about $ and not education. I would like to see them stay four years, but have to look at it from an athletes point of view. They are the atheletes and not us. They also have a very short career ahead. We already have way too many handcuffs in our country. I love going over to other countries and feeling more freedom. I know there are places much worse, but we have so many fucking rules that are all about control and money.


April 6th, 2012 at 12:27 PM ^

and the draft expands to five rounds.

Which will further encourage the already absurd focus on becoming a professional athlete in the minds of 17-year-olds, coupled with a more widespread dismissal of the notion of actually getting an education.


April 6th, 2012 at 1:14 PM ^

Not sure "further encouragment" is possible. Right now, it's "millions of dollars to play basketball" v. "another year of studying while playing for free." If anything, it puts the onus of the "Is this player ready?" decision on the team, rather than the player, because the team has to invest guaranteed money. Right now, the player has all the risk and has to make the decision with almost none of the information (unless you're Anthony Davis, of course). 

Magnum P.I.

April 6th, 2012 at 12:28 PM ^

I don't know the details of either league's system, but why can't the NBA use a model like that of MLB and just let teams draft whoever they want, be he a high school grad, a college sophomore, a college senior, or a 28-year-old Latvian? If a guy gets drafted in the first round with a guaranteed contract, he'll go pro. If he doesn't get drafted, he'll play college ball (or Latvian league ball, as may be the case). In MLB there's risk on teams' parts in drafting a high schooler who could shun the pros in favor of college, but I don't really this happening with guanteed tickets directly to the NBA. 

So, if Trey Burke is drafted by a team in the first round, he leaves for the pros. If not, he comes back and plays at U-M. I don't see the point in having to "declare" for the draft and putting your college eligibility on the line. 


April 6th, 2012 at 12:35 PM ^

MLB rules are a little more restrictive than that.  Players (from North America, anyway) are eligiible to be drafted out of high school, but after that, they aren't eligible again until after three years.  

Players from outside North America aren't eligible to be drafted at all, but they can be signed without any restriction once they turn 16.



April 6th, 2012 at 12:36 PM ^

Completely agree.  That is the stupidest rule I think.  Just let a kid declare for the draft, but if he doesn't want to leave after drafted, then he can stay in school.  I don't know if the NBA teams would like it as much because a kid they want may just shun them, but then perhaps go back to the expanding the number of drafts like in the MLB as well.  It's really unfair to the kids to put everything on the line and declare when there are so many people who couldn't care less about them, but benefit from them just declaring anyway.


April 6th, 2012 at 12:46 PM ^

That's actually on the college coaches.  The NBA once actually did allow players to be drafted then go back to school (Voshon Leonard did this), but at the insistence of college coaches, who didn't want the uncertainty of their players' status that long, the deadline for returning to school kept being moved up.  For several years they left the deadline in mid-June, before the draft but close enough that players could have a good idea of where they'd go.  Last year it was bumped up to mid-May; now it's April 10.  


April 6th, 2012 at 12:39 PM ^

I think the plan should be to let all high school players be eligable to allow the studs in high school like the Lebrons, Kobes, Dwights, KGs, and Anthony Davis's of the world to get drafted and avoid a meaningless detour of college.  For the high schoolers who aren't drafted, I think if they decide to go to college, the have to stick for 3 years.  I think that 3 year mark is significant because if they decide to leave after their junior year, get drafted, but flame out and need another career, they can still go back and only have 1 year of college to finish up.


April 6th, 2012 at 12:42 PM ^

I would add in a point about the NBA team being responsible for college tuition and fees (room and board, books, etc), depending on how many years of college are left. For example- draft LeBron out of high school, NBA team on the hook for 4 * $60K/yr. Draft Trey Burke now and it goes down to $180K. 

It requires NBA teams to provide for a potential for a future for players that don't pan out, so players have another option after their basketball days are over.


April 6th, 2012 at 12:50 PM ^

David Stern apparently offered to do that one better, though, by "insuring" (I'm not sure if he meant insure or just flat-out pay) elite players while they stay in school.  The NCAA turned him down on account'a them being idiots. 

matty blue

April 6th, 2012 at 12:47 PM ^

...the nba USED to have "draft and follow," or at least a form of it.  it was somehow tied to the original class of a player who transferred or was redshirted, as i recall.  teams could draft a player whose original class was "graduating" but still had eligibility, WHETHER OR NOT THEY HAD DECLARED THEIR INTENTIONS TO ENTER THE DRAFT.  they then had a year to sign the player.  if they couldn't, the player went back into the draft.

the greatest example of this, is, of course, larry bird.  the celtics drafted him in 1978; he went back to indiana state, went 33-1, and the celts signed him just before the 1979 draft.

other teams were pissed off that red auerbach had once again drunk their milkshake, and changed the rule shortly thereafter.

the point being, this is not unheard of in the nba.  makes too much sense, though.


April 6th, 2012 at 12:54 PM ^

I've been advocating this system forever to my friends.  College hockey and baseball are so much more sensible.  Players go pro WHEN THE PRO TEAMS SAY THEY ARE READY TO BE ON THE ROSTER.  So there is none of this cat and mouse BS about whether they will be drafted or not.

Sure, it turns college baskettball into the defacto D-league for the NBA, but is that really a big deal?   The quality of play would go way up because less players would leave early, and more teams would wait and let their guy play for 2 or 3 seasons in college before signing them to the roster.

It just makes sense.  It's the rare win, win, win.  Players get more certainty.  Teams don't have to carry underdeveloped 19 year olds that aren't really ready for the NBA..  And college basketball gets stronger across the board.

J. Lichty

April 6th, 2012 at 1:56 PM ^

and the one exception to that the Draft and Follow rule for Juco players was eliminated in the last CBA.

The biggest difference about baseball is that there is a place for the kids who do not make the majors out of high school (all of them) to play other than the majors and only once a player is out of minor leauge options does the team have to make a decision about keeping the player on the 25 man roster.

Baseball works that way because of the large pool of minor league teams.  Basketball (like football) uses the NCAA as its free minor league, really hurting the marginal kids on the backend.  A modified hockey model makes the most sense.


April 6th, 2012 at 10:03 PM ^

I agree that the hockey model would work bertter, but I'd take the baseball model too.  True superstar 17 year olds could be drafted staight to the NBA, but if you came to college you'd have to play 3 years before you went.  Sure, basketball would lose a handful of talent to the High School draft, but not nearly as much as they lose now. 


April 6th, 2012 at 12:55 PM ^

How about this? Allow the players to enter the draft whenever they want. If they don't like their draft position, they can return to school, but the team that drafted the player subsidizes the scholarship and still maintains rights to the player when they decide to go to the NBA.


April 6th, 2012 at 2:27 PM ^

The most (only?) confusing thing about this idea is that I think I'm seeing the NHL being held up as a model for managing something sports-related.


April 6th, 2012 at 3:03 PM ^

I like the idea of the NBA teams retaining your rights, but I don't think a 5-year guaranteed contract would work for the player's union (because then you'd have an incentive as a team to just keep signing young kids at a low rate versus paying more for established veterans).  But if an NBA team took a flyer on you and you stayed in college, I'd be happy with them paying your tuition and room/board for that time plus taking an insurance policy out for them in case they can't/don't play.  It's more for appearances than practicality, but putting kids ahead a bit will mean more guys stick around beyond their first year AND the risk is shared by both parties, not just the kids like now.


April 6th, 2012 at 3:32 PM ^

I like the hockey model better than the basketball model, because players won't leave without knowing how much money they'll make, but it's far from a great option. If Burke were drafted at all (let's say he was a fifth-round pick of the Mavericks) chances are now a lot better that they'll come after him and try to get him to sign, or trade him to a team that can put him on the floor right away and then they sign him. Either way, after a season like the one he had he would probably be gone. At least he'd know what he would make.

I hate to say this, since I don't like how the OHL has poached some serious Michigan hockey talent, but there may be a need for a Major Junior-type organization in basketball. Guys who are good know they are serious prospects by the time they are 16, and a system that allows more basketball-centered development without a serious academic requirement can allow the NBA to circumvent the uncomfortable situation they are in where they make college-inappropriate kids go to college in order to be able to play basketball. 

I think it would be a big draw for kids who are, let's say, not-so-enthusiastic about school but like to play basketball. You play a 60-game season, get actual 7-game playoff series, and get a stipend, and you are drafted at the same time. You can always go back for your last year if the team is not ready to sign you.

This would seriously gut college basketball, so it's probably a good thing that nobody else has bothered to execute it.


April 6th, 2012 at 3:33 PM ^

F you kids playing a kids game. I need you to stay, so I have a good college team. I love more rules and government regulations! Me me me! I can't work at Apple until I graduate, because I might fail like others. Wait, you can? Wtf! People let's get a law against this freedom. Nobody joins the military, government, law enforcement, or public sector until they graduate too. We need rules for me, and not the player.

Selfish Asshole


April 7th, 2012 at 1:14 PM ^

Why not put some leverage from the University. For instance, if you stay 2 years, you will be able to finish your education at any time with no cost to you, but if you leave after 1 year, no free education for you. Of course, I put a greater belief in a degree than I do the ability to shoot a basketball.


April 12th, 2012 at 9:54 AM ^

This makes a lot of sense - hopefully the powers that be can come to that conclusion - likely many will and some form of this will be instituted

Angie Davis

April 12th, 2012 at 11:44 AM ^

For the high schoolers who aren't drafted, I think if they decide to go to college, the have to stick for 3 years.  I think that 3 year mark is significant because if they decide to leave after their junior year, get drafted, but flame out and need another career, they can still go back and only have 1 year of college to finish up.